Shot in three countries over a two year period, Boxers and Ballerinas explores the US-Cuba conflict through the eyes of four youths--a boxer and a ballerina in Havana and Santiago de Cuba and a boxer and a ballerina exiled in Miami.
This seemingly casual film set in Montreal in 1965 keeps us fixated on the character in the film, namely Leonard Cohen, a poet who came of age in the 1960's. A Donald Brittain documentary, it gives us a glimpse of Cohen going about his daily routine of rising from bed, reading before loving audiences, going to restaurants and bars, and even getting his hair done at a beauty salon. We see him on a broadcast show trading barbs with Pierre Berton and telling the viewers the importance of being in a state of grace. Interesting how this Jewish young man has an affection for Catholic metaphor,which he interprets in his own fashion but which he can explain in terms that make perfect sense.
The camera is his friend. He looks good on camera and is relaxed and articulate. He looks like a sixties preppy with the fine-tailored look and the well-coiffed hair. He even jokes about ads in the paper for hair removal. The camera zooms in on him when he speaks. In this film, we see a series of portraits of the poet on film. We are treated to background scenes from his home town of Montreal...as he rises and looks out the window at the snow falling, or talks about Mount Royal where he played as a child. The winter background in Montreal is appropriate since Montreal is a city known for winter. It used to be the most Catholic winter city in the world, although hockey might have been the more dominant religion. He talks about hockey and how in public school, he was the ninth best defenceman in his class.
He sees himself as a social critic and yet he comes from a well-heeled family and grew up in the once insular English enclave of Westmount in this predominantly French-Catholic city. This is not a pro-Cohen film but true to his talent for great documentary, Donald Brittain has delivered a film that could be of interest to all shades of opinion on Leonard Cohen.
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